Here’s a simple question with a complex answer that could kill us all one day. Unfortunately, that’s not an exaggeration.
Why is there no stimulus money for the environment from our federal government?
Why after $3 trillion has been authorized for recovery and another $1 trillion considered, not one penny has gone to end climate change when scientists warn the Earth is at a critical tipping point and we are the world’s worst polluter? Why nothing for the environment when global warming and carbon emissions are increasing faster than originally thought? Why is there not even a green stimulus bill proposed to address climate change and global warming even though 2019 was the second warmest year on record and 2020 is expected to be warmer?
The simple part of the answer is that Donald Trump is president and loves oil companies, especially those who donate to his campaign. He seems to favor anything that benefits business, even reversing 100 environmental regulations. Add to that Republicans who, so far, have not allowed any green bills to pass the Senate. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in March said on the Senate floor in response to Democratic requests, “That is exactly, exactly the wrong approach right now. That is the kind of thinking that could bog down these urgent discussions…This is a national emergency.” He has maintained this position by his lack of action for the environment.
But why are there no major green bills even proposed, much less law?
This is where the answer gets complex and, to some Democrats, scary.
According to a spokesperson for a major environmental activist organization with lobbyists in Washington D.C., there is no stimulus money for the environment because Democrats are politically afraid Trump and McConnell will use the Green New Deal, which is only a non-binding resolution, as an easy talking point against Democrats.
A Democratic staffer who works on climate issues in Congress adds that any environmental legislation proposed would allow President Trump and Republicans to demonize the Green New Deal as a major talking point to convince voters in swing states to vote Republican. The demonizations, the staffer said, would have gross exaggerations, like claiming the Green New Deal won’t allow you to fly or have a car. He noted that if the exaggerations work, Democrats worry Trump will be re-elected and there would be, “zero chance” of any environmental legislation for another four years. Trump, emphasized this staffer, “…is absolutely anti-environment and pro fossil fuel.”
Political science professor Thomas Halper of Baruch College agrees with the assessment about the Green New Deal. “Most Democrats believe, with good reason, that supporting the Green New Deal would be fatal. This is how democracies work.”
Perhaps confirming Democratic fears, President Trump has already started attacking the Green New Deal, though no major environmental legislation has been submitted to Congress. In a news conference on June 5, the president alleged that, “Democrats want to do Green New Deals which are totally ridiculous, frankly ridiculous … we’re setting all sorts of really good environmental records; we’re very proud of that. But the Green New Deal would kill our country. The Green New Deal would have a devastating effect on the world. And it’s not going to happen anyway cause it’s impossible for them to do it; if you ever look at what they want to do under the Green New Deal it’s, it’s like baby talk.”
In a recent tweet, Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for Trump’s presidential campaign, listed the Green New Deal third in a supposed Biden agenda. The list began with “higher taxes” and “more government regulations.”
So the Green New Deal for Republicans is already an easy, talking-point attack on Democrats. One key reason is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). The star freshman Congressmember is a sponsor of the Green New Deal. Some Democrats, anonymously, call her a lightning rod, noting, “We don’t want the Democratic party represented by a self-declared Democratic socialist from the Bronx.” But she and John Kerry are working together on Joe Biden’s environmental platform; Ocasio-Cortez is immensely popular among young Democratic voters.
The Democratic staffer added that another reason for the lack of environmental legislation is that fossil fuel conglomerates still wield tremendous power in Washington, because of their money to fund political campaigns.
Professor Halper added two elephants to this discussion room. “I also think that the absence of talk about climate change is largely due to coverage of, first, the virus, and now, protests/racism that have monopolized the news. It isn’t only climate change that’s ignored; everything else is ignored.”
The climate activist organization Greenpeace agrees that dealing with the pandemic stopped any federal green legislation. But it says stopping a monetary bailout for big oil (though not loans) was an environmental victory. Greenpeace climate campaigner Charlie Jiang says November 2020 must now be a focus:
“… this election is absolutely critical and one of the most, if not the most important election we’ll ever see…we're going to need millions of people to turn out to vote to ensure that our next administration or next Congress are going to put the needs of people first.”
Activists and centrist Democrats concur that Congress has rightly focused on the historic COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession, and Black Lives Matter mass protests. But just as we have learned that the science of the virus pandemics ignores national boundaries and political concerns, so too does the science and inevitability of the disasters of hurricanes, drought, and wildfires from climate change.
In March, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced the next stimulus bill would have something to deal with climate change and global warming. The infrastructure plan even had a name, “Moving Forward Framework.” The Sierra Club, Oil Change International, 350.org, Greenpeace, and the Sunrise Movement met and communicated with Democratic congressional staff from both the House and Senate to work on this plan. They hoped it would lead to a House bill which included environmentally sustainable industries. House Democrats believed their plan could mean 10 million jobs and a major shift in American energy policies and pollution.
But it went nowhere and each month, with each stimulus plan, it was the next plan that would have some green stimulus. And it’s still that way. Calls for a bill, but no major environmental bill even proposed.
Climate activists believe this is a mistake. The environmental activist who said Democrats are afraid added they should not be. A recent poll indicates some 70% of Americans and 80% of millennial Americans believe climate change is real and must be addressed.
Keith Gaby, the communications director for the 2.5 million member Environmental Defense Fund, notes: "Congress absolutely needs to invest in rebuilding a better economy – cleaner, healthier, more just. If we just go back to business as usual, we'll be guaranteeing even more serious damage from climate change. Before coronavirus, the clean energy industry produced jobs 70% faster than the economy as a whole. It needs to be a big part of how we recover. This pandemic is a big giant signal not to ignore the warning of scientists. Congress needs to invest for a healthier, better future."
Many corporations agree. Some 700 companies have signed letters to world leaders, calling on them to pass economic stimulus packages that tackle both the impacts of the coronavirus and the ongoing climate crisis. Forty-five hundred health professionals and 350 organizations, representing at least 40 million health workers worldwide, have urged the leaders of the G20 to ensure a green recovery.
The oil industry itself is now saying it is time to invest in renewable energy. Even a contributor to the self-described “capitalist tool,” Forbes magazine, is editorializing that it is time to invest in renewable energy sources.
The pandemic has opened through its massive number of deaths a new era when science is not ignored in making political decisions.
Other major economies are including green parts to their stimulus programs. Germany and France both have subsidies for electric cars from $3000 to $6000.
And it does not take a Green New Deal to make major changes. A University of California, Berkeley, study found that the US electricity grid could be 90% carbon free if Congress set a universal clean-electricity standard. Such a rule would mandate that utilities generate part of their energy from carbon-free sources like hydroelectric, wind, solar, and geothermal.
Stand.earth’s Matt Krogh is director for its US Oil and & Gas Campaign. "We hope congressional leaders come to understand that the overlapping issues of COVID-19, climate, and air pollution all point to a clear conclusion: using stimulus money to get off fossil fuels would mean better air quality, shovel ready jobs, healthier homes, and a society more ready to tackle climate change. Done right, greening the stimulus could mean a win for everybody."
One climate organization is now openly campaigning for a green stimulus bill. Jamal Raad, co-founder and campaign director of Evergreen Action, sent out an email thanking 57 members of congress who wrote to their leadership to take action on Climate change. He asked for the public’s help, noting, “The two big relief packages passed by the House so far -- the CARES Act and the HEROES Act -- failed to recognize the urgency of addressing the climate crisis. Massive as they were, neither package provided support for clean energy, a sector that shed some 600,000 jobs in the first two months of the pandemic alone.
"But now, we're seeing newfound energy among Democrats to prioritize clean energy investment. Data for Progress polling shows strong public support for the ideas in our Clean Jumpstart Plan, a $1.5 trillion investment in the clean energy economy.”
The United States is not alone in its refusal to aid the environment during this pandemic. China, India and Brazil are all focused on economic recovery with little regard for the environmental damage.
The Democratic staffer I spoke to claims activists always say Democrats don’t do enough. But Democrats and climate activists agree on this: for the environment to have a chance, Donald Trump cannot be president. And the House and Senate must be controlled by Democrats for the environment to get any serious consideration and hope of meeting the 2030 and 2050 goals for carbon levels set by the United Nations. If we don’t meet the 2050 goals, many scientists believe, the human race faces extinction.